Briefing

Walmart, Oracle and Simon Property Group secretly fund anti-Amazon advocacy group

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The Free & Fair Markets Initiative (FFMI), a non-profit, has criticized the e-commerce giant over its working conditions, data-safety practices and receipt of government subsidies in tweets and videos as well as op-eds in large newspapers like The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Houston Chronicle. FFMI declined to reveal its funders. Simon, which has 200 malls in the U.S., declined to comment. Oracle confirmed that it had supported FFMI financially. Walmart said it does not, but sources said it funds the group through an intermediary. (Wall Street Journal)

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Talking point: Astroturfing—lobbying efforts designed to look like grassroots advocacy, but driven by large companies with vested interests—typically focuses on influencing major policy decisions that affect a sector as a whole. Such campaigns normally do not target a single company, making FFMI’s effort a sign of what a threat Amazon has become to its competitors in different sectors. The group has achieved some of its aims. FFMI’s backers reportedly want policymakers to target the tech company with antitrust actions, and in Oracle’s case, to stop it from winning a US$10-billion defence contract. Several U.S. regulators have since launched investigations into the company’s anti-competitive practices, and the government has put the procurement on hold.